Mariner of Interest: Taijuan Walker
Though the temperature is near freezing these days, Seattle continues to be a hotbed of baseball activity and rumors. Robinson Cano has agreed to call the Pacific Northwest home for the next decade already , and the Mariners’ front office seems primed to land him some highly talented neighbors. David Price appears to be at or near the top of the list. That means Taijuan Walker might be near the top of the Rays’ list.
As mentioned a few days ago, the M’s have attractive young talent and the financial means to make the Rays — and Price – a competitive offer. Any talks between the two organizations, however, likely live and die on Walker’s well-inked right arm. A first-round pick in 2010, the talented hurler moved quickly through the Mariners’ system and made his major league debut last August, roughly two weeks after his 21st birthday.
Walker’s arsenal is high quality. He already has two plus-plus pitches, an average breaking ball, and a changeup that may get there one day. Hailing from Cajun territory (Shreveport, LA) his fastball velocity has the spice to match his roots. Routinely thrown in the mid-to-upper 90s, the heater has arm-side boogie and gave big league hitters problems in the three starts he made at the end of last season. Joining the fastball in the plus category is a tight, low-90s cutter that dances toward the glove side as it crosses home plate. He also maintains an inconsistent mid-70s curveball with good shape and a changeup in the upper-80s that is developing.
Though he has already reached the highest level, Walker lacks refinement. His command is below-average as he tends to live up in the zone which leaves little margin for error. The curveball was highly regarded in the minor leagues but at times he can either get underneath it and hang it or spike it. The changeup is still a work in progress, meaning it can look like a batting practice fastball at times, and Rays employee Jason Cole wrote that Walker might be a splitter candidate down the road. The good news is you can put a lot of Walker’s negatives on most young pitchers, but most young pitchers lack his one-two fastball-cutter combination.
In regards to delivery, Walker tends to do most everything easy. He has the prototypical frame and is extremely athletic. Starting from the middle of the rubber, he extends his long limbs before an extremely quick release. Simply put, his arm just looks fast. He maintains his height throughout with good posture and an upright finish. It is a very “plain” motion. And in this case plain is good. Walker also has fast feet and a good move to first. Some in the industry felt his mechanics stiffened or regressed last season, but I have not seen anyone suggest that this cannot be cleaned up. Aside from physical attributes, he is highly competitive and driven.
When you hear the Rays are targeting a top young arm, Walker is the model. He has unteachable ingredients: big frame, big arm, athletic and motivated. There are some issues to be ironed out. That said, when in doubt it is always best bet on the players who are athletes first like Walker. You can see why Seattle would be hesitant on moving him. At the same time, you see why the Rays would be adamant on his inclusion in any package the Mariners can offer up for Price.